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Our View: Looking forward to a new direction at NIU

What now?

That’s the critical question for Northern Illinois University in the wake of news that its president will resign effective June 30.

The way forward will be difficult, but it is not without promise.

Given the funding challenges higher education faces in budgetless, broke Illinois, being president of any university is not an easy task. We thank President Doug Baker for his efforts here in the past four years.

We also agree that he made the right decision in choosing to step aside. True to the often expensive nature of this administration, he received a buyout worth $600,000, through an agreement that appeared nowhere in public records before the NIU Board of Trustees meeting and wasn’t explicitly mentioned anywhere on their agenda.

It is this sort of dealing that the university must end if it seeks to forge a new path.

The culture of secrecy, the inclination by the university to bury and hide information from the public, should end with the next administration. So, too, should the search for loopholes and other ways to hire people at extravagant salaries to perform administrative functions.

Here’s our wish list for a new leader for the university:

• Someone selected through a transparent and open search process.

• A leader who will consider the needs of faculty and students in addition to adding to the administrative workforce.

• An administration that will not seek to hide or sit on important information – one that is not afraid to be accountable for its actions.

• A president who will consider not only the needs of students who live on campus, but also of the commuter student population, which is an important component of the student body at NIU and long has been.

Real openness can pay dividends with the community, the faculty, students and even lawmakers in Springfield, who will be happy to use any excuse they can to underfund the university – when they get around to funding it at all.

We hope the leaders on the board of trustees and interim President Lisa Freeman will consider the issues that have unfolded in recent months, and their root causes, and seek to avoid them in the future.

The university faces headwinds, to be sure. But it has a lot to offer students in northern Illinois, and its strengths often are overlooked. New leadership must be able to make a convincing case to counteract all those who would advise our state’s youth to leave the state to seek an education.

People in DeKalb County want NIU, its students and all those who work there to succeed. The institution is a source of community pride.

We look forward to a new direction.

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